Buddhist Shrines

If we look back historically at the very earliest representations of the Buddha, we find not statues or images of the Buddha, but Shrines. Holy places that are connected with the presence of the Buddha. The earliest of these Shrines contained relics of the Buddha’s cremation. Later ones were associated with events or objects that were connected with the Buddha’s life.

Places of Worship

In the early Shrines, the ones that were established shortly after the death of the Buddha, the relics of the Buddha’s cremation were taken to funerary mounds. Big, solid, round mounds that had a square structure on the top. The relic of the Buddha’s cremation was put inside that square structure.

As time went on, the relics of the cremation of the Buddha were taken out, redivided and further distributed. What was originally a set of only about six different holy places became a vast profusion of places associated with the relics that lingered from the Buddha’s creamation.

But this wasn’t the only option, there were objects that the Buddha owned, in one way or another. I mentioned in other article that an important Shrine held the Buddha’s begging ball. There are other Shrines like that, associated with objects that were part of his life.

A common form of Shrine is the Shrine associated with the Buddha’s footprints. You can find footprints just about anywhere. All sorts of stories could be spawned to explain how the Buddha might landed there.


How do they work in Buddhist devotion? One of the things that these Shrines made possible was the early Buddhist tradition of pilgrimage. Some of the early reliquary mounds were set up in places that were associated with particularly important events in the Buddha’s life, like the great reliquary mound near the Deer Park where the Buddha gave his first sermon.

When you visit a pilgrimage site like this or come into the presence of one of these Shrines, you engage in what we would call an action of worship. It is important to be aware to some degree of the vocabulary of Buddhist worship. How are you going to worship at a Buddhist Shrine? We will see that in the next article.

This article is part of the series about Buddhist Art

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